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Helpful Tips for Making The Transition To College

As the new academic year starts, anticipation from students, teachers, and parents begins to grow. As you (or your loved one) transition into the college experience, this anticipation and experience can turn into anxiety that can become overwhelming.

With the school year progressing, you may have set expectations for yourself about how it should feel by now. You may have also put pressure on yourself as to what you should have accomplished within certain time frames at school.

It’s also possible that you are comparing yourself to another college student or several. Rest assured, it’s still early in the school year, and there are ways to help ease anxiety as you maintain your obligations.

Here are some tips to help you with your transition to college:

Let go of expectations. 

Whether the expectations are about how you should feel, think, act, or what you should have accomplished at school; try to let go of what you expected and live the actual experience instead.

You may feel homesickness, be having a hard time balancing all of your new classes with a social life, or still deciding on what your dreams are for the future. All of these things are okay and part of college life.

You don’t need to have a major declared yet, you can miss a person or place even though you know it was a necessary goodbye, and college is a unique blend of social life and academics even if you aren’t living on campus.

Give yourself time to navigate the new experience and allow yourself to feel the emotions that surface around new found territory like decision making, financial planning, academic success, and making new friends.

This is all a natural part of the college transition, and taking care of your mental health can help with student success.

Establish a routine.

When you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, scared or unsafe, creating regularity can help ease the uncertainty that comes along with change.

This will not be the last time you transition in your life, so taking steps to help yourself now will only help your future self. Think about what you like and try to incorporate those elements into your routine.

Create structure around study habits to develop study skills and carve out time for completing homework, reading and test prep.

If you love to walk around the campus, carve out time to do that. If you are a commuting to campus, help yourself out by getting parking that will be available every time, even if that means spending a little more upfront. The extra time you’ll gain in having parking can be a gift when you feel time is limited.

Little adjustments can be worth it when you think about how that will impact you each day.

If you know that you love making yourself coffee each day or going to the gym, incorporate that into your routine. There is time to do the things that brighten up your day. Invite friends (new and/or old) to have a weekly TV night or dinner night.

Adding touch points of activities to your week whether with others or alone, can help ease anxiety, stress, overwhelm and depression.

You don’t have to know everything about being an adult just because you are of adult age. College is a time for you to figure out what you need to be successful in whatever your goals are for your life. 

Whether you are a first year student or 5th year, you can begin learning what works best for you, based on what you need and how you work best. 

Connect with your peers.

You get to listen to your needs as you navigate transitioning into college, and socializing is often a need for students who are shifting. Fellow students can be a resource for you throughout the year.

When you connect with peers on your campus, you may see similarities among the student body, and especially within your college program. This can often ease the feeling that you are alone. 

There are many students just like you who want similar outcomes. Find the people you enjoy the most.

No matter your situation, colleges have a variety of groups, clubs, teams, and social outlets available for students. Check out the student services department on the school website or on campus to learn more about activities that might be of interest to you.

Whether you are seeking higher education through a university, community college, vocational school, or another program; you can find connection to others and build community – however that looks to you.

Seek out campus resources.

Colleges and universities want their students to succeed and in order to help students do this, they offer tons of resources to help them be successful.

Connect with different offices as much as possible whether it is resident life, admissions, financial aid, career services, or tutoring. Making a contact in each office can help you navigate new territory more easily.

If you had a pleasant experience with a certain admissions counselor initially, reconnect with them. They can guide you toward your college degree through career exploration, necessary college credit, and help you with an academic skill.

If you are struggling with a class, you can reach out to your teacher assistant or professor and there are often tutoring centers available as well with interventions.

Often, career services and tutoring will help you with resumes, cover letters, and note taking.

If you have a learning difference, connect with your tutoring center right away to verify what accommodations are available to you.

Financial aid can get you set up with work study and will help you understand student loans better.

Often, college campuses offer a few free counseling sessions with student health insurance packages. Even if you don’t feel the need to seek professional help, it can be beneficial to talk through your experience. This can ease anxiety, depression, or tension that is brought on by change.

You don’t have to do everything by yourself. If you don’t connect with someone initially, keep trying until you are successful with getting the help you need.

Stay in touch with family and friends.

Being homesick is a normal part of transitioning to college. You are not alone and reaching out to family as well as friends who are familiar and with whom you have a good relationship with, can be helpful.

Balancing meeting new people and allowing yourself to find comfort in home life is an important part of shifting to college.

If you don’t have a family that is supportive, college can be a time that you begin to connect with chosen family.

Join clubs, groups, and use your resources to connect with people who are supportive of you. There is no right time to do this, and you can make new decisions at any time.

Maintain your physical and mental health.

With new found freedom, you may want to neglect your physical and mental health. Transitioning to college is a time to establish life long routines that are supportive for you.

It can be tempting to stay up all night to finish a paper for a college course or engage in a social outing, and you may do this once or twice to test the waters. However, learning how to take care of yourself now can help you later.

If you have always procrastinated, see how it feels to let that go and practice self-discipline instead with your college classes. You won’t do this perfectly, and you get to decide what feels right for you. If working up until the last minute is best for you, then it is best for you.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed, think about how you are spending time. If you are not taking care of yourself, the first step can be simple. Get enough sleep, drink water, and eat foods that feel good to you. If you are having difficulty with any of these, seeking additional help for coping with a mental health professional can be a great way to increase your support and coping skills.

If you have been drinking heavily, think about a replacement habit. Alcohol is a depressant that is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Substance abuse can be common, and if you know you are putting yourself into unsafe situations, reach out for help. To equip yourself with tools, tap into the resources on campus.

Consider counseling.

Transitioning to college as a new student is a change. You have more freedom. You may be away from your parents for the first time. You can enjoy the experience, and it can be difficult to manage at the same time. Sometimes, articulating how you are feeling with an objective person can be helpful. A few sessions of counseling are normally free on college campuses. Check what resources are available to you.

There is no timeline for a successful transition to college – It may take your entire freshman year or even a couple of years to truly feel at home in a new place. It is different for every student.

If you know something doesn’t feel right to you, listen to yourself. Colleges have everything you need in one place, even if the college campus is large.

Success canned does look different for everyone. Get involved with clubs, groups, and relationships that feel satisfying to you.

It can seem overwhelming to be in a new place, and there is opportunity as well. Learning how to take care of yourself now can help you with handling changes in the future. 

At Denver Metro Counseling our clinicians work with students as they transition to college and provide therapy support for young adults struggling with anxiety, depression, ADHD, trauma, substance use, body image and more.  

Learn More About Denver Metro Counseling

Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC